Out April 25th on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD from BFI
Plot: When Anne (Heilbron) is invited to the secluded country mansion of girlfriend, Helen (Pleasence), it seems like they’ll have a nice quiet weekend in the countryside. However not everything is as it seems, the groundskeeper (Vaughan) is looming around menacingly, and the presence of Helen’s friend, Cora, seems to haunt the mansion.
Long since thought as lost after it’s original release in 1974, Symptoms is being restored and re-released by the British Film Institute as part of their BFI Flipside program, attempting to revisit more obscure cinema from the UK. Taking a similar route to companies such as Arrow Video and 88 Films, BFI Flipside are releasing Symptoms on bluray and dvd with plenty special features to appeal to the collectors.
I have to say that I’m surprised that a film that is over 40 years old would have a lesbian couple as the main focus, and not focus too hard on the lesbianism. The relationship between Helen and Anne is not overt, to the point that it feels that it is only Helen who has feelings towards Anne. Through watching Symptoms, it only felt like a friendship between them, except for a little unrequited love. However between the press release and IMDB and their use of the word Girlfriend, that it’s more than just friendship. Perhaps with the censorship at the time, the film couldn’t be more explicit with their relationship, but it kind of works better.
The plot of Symptoms is a little predictable by modern standards, it’s a thriller about infatuation and jealousy, themes that are used constantly in film and television. It doesn’t take long to unravel the mysteries of this film, but it does give it that impending doom feeling. You know something bad is going to happen and you’re waiting for it to unfold.
Both the groundskeeper and Helen are very insidious and creepy characters, and as the film goes on you have to wonder which is the red herring here. Helen is particularly unsettling, showing the acting prowess of Angela Pleasence. Not surprising since she is the daughter of Donald Pleasence.
The location of Symptoms is definitely one of the strongest elements of the film, the mansion is very forboding and creepy in it’s isolation. Pair that with the thunder, lightning, and torrential rain that batters on it later in the film and it becomes a very unsettling place. The storm also adds to the inevitable threat of the film, as Helen talks of the storm drawing near early in the film.
While I wouldn’t say that Symptoms is a classic for the ages, it’s definitely worth a watch, especially since it has been lost from the public eye for so long. It harkens back to British thrillers, still tinged in gothic styling. Much like the work of Hammer it has a certain British charm to it that seems a little lost in modern films that feel a little tainted by the need to appeal to a wider audience, and adopting more American attitudes to fit that appeal.
Newly restored in 2k
On Vampyres and other Symptoms (Celia Novis, 2011, 74 mins): Feature-length documentary about director José Ramón Larraz focusing on two of his most acclaimed films, Vampyres and Symptoms
From Barcelona to Tunbridge Wells: The Films of José Larraz (Andrew Starke & Pete Tombs, 1999, 24 mins)
Interview with Angela Pleasence (2016): Interview with the film’s star
Interview with Lorna Heilbron (2016): Interview with the film’s co-star
Interview with Brian Smedley-Aston (2016): Interview with the film’s editor
Original theatrical trailer
Illustrated booklet with new writing by Vanity Celis and full film credits
UK | 1974 | colour | English language, with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles | original aspect ratio 1.33:1 | 92 minutes